Universal credit "may" have been a good idea but it's a credit to no-one

If you believe the rationale given behind Universal Credit, you might agree that simplifying the benefits system so that it’s easier to understand both for people applying to it and for people administering it, is a good idea. You might.

You might,  like me, be riven with concern that paying all the money into a single house-hold account risks sending women’s equality back into the dark ages and that insufficient research on this has been carried out. You might have a myriad other concerns, especially if you’re self-employed with children, and so you might like many people be urging the Government – like the Grolsch ad –  to SCHTOPPPPPP!

Here we are in the eye of the storm, where both sides are opposing the roll out and the only people left defending it, are revealing an appalling and unforgivable ignorance of how the system actually works.

In the real world, the implementation of UC has caused everyone who is close to it – or even three rings out –  to point out from positions of personal distress, rage, professional frustration, confusion and academic objectivity, in every form of media, on every street corner, that it isn’t working.

Even if the principle is fair (by whose standards of fairness), even if it will save some money (for whom, for what?), even if in the end it’s simpler (is it?)  – its instigators have once again demonstrated why taking creativity and artistry out of education is a terrible terrible crime against humanity.

Only a system *created* with the spreadsheet as canvas and which reduces people to statistics and units of £££, a system devoid of the empathic thinking which creative skills and humanities subjects imbue, could:

  1. Decide that instigating change could be done quickly and without human interaction.
  2. Fail to listen to feedback and roll it out anyway without pausing to fix the faults
  3. Decide that it would be an online system – so the helpline should only be a back up,  and therefore that helpline could be 55p a minute – ( to discourage people from using it?) And from having a helpline that the initiative’s creators don’t want us to use, it follows that said helpline is understaffed.

What the unempathic thinkers have forgotten or never knew is:

  • People hate change on a good day. Vulnerable people who have been trained by the system over years to fear getting that system wrong, have good reason to fear change
  • People who are feeling vulnerable  – for whatever reason –  often prefer and need human interaction rather than online forms and guide sheets, which themselves are not always the easiest to understand.
  • Many people who will be moved to Universal Credit are not confident with the internet or have access to it in a secure environment (whilst I’m sure there are some who prefer it).

Our culture of moving everything to automation and internet access can be cruel, isolating and for those of you who can only think in this dead language – A FALSE ECONOMY.

And yes, there’s more.

I’ve heard people speaking up in favour of the 55p/minute phone line because it wasn’t supposed to be used much. And Liz Truss then suggested that if we didn’t want or couldn’t afford 55p/minute we should visit our local Job Centre. I am grateful that the last time I had to visit a Job Centre was in 2010 after a redundancy. It was a 3 hour round trip on the bus.  Every time I went, the security men were aggressive and would only let people in who had an appointment. Liz Truss doesn’t appear to know that Job Centres don’t act as advice centres on benefits. She appears to have some misty-eyed vision of a UK where you can pop to your local Job Centre – a bit like popping to the post office or the GP- err,… no wait –  where a friendly and unhurried public servant will slowly and carefully take you through the process. She appears not to know that the understaffed and hard to find Job Centres (many now wittily reclaimed as pubs or redeveloped into executive homes) are no place to discuss Universal Credit, as logical as that would be.

Public service and economics are not science. They are an art, they require skill, humanity and an ability to empathise with and respect how human beings behave. Our education system, our public services are being systematically stripped of opportunities to develop and use these skills and the most vulnerable in our society are already picking up the bill.


WE crowd source our policies and campaigns. WEP Lewisham is actively seeking candidates and campaigners (first timers especially). We want a diverse and inclusive election team for local elections in May 2018. If you are curious/enraged/inspired/expert/beginner, generous of spirit, with a bit of time and a lot of will to see change, come and meet us.

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